The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Baseball, Strange But True (Or, The Sleep of Reason Creates Monsters)

I’ve always been a sucker for the Strange but True tales, wherever I can find them.  It all began with a weird book my father used to own (first published in 1973) called, “Wisconsin Death Trip.” Also, (to my nine-year old sensibilities) the paintings of Goya, (particularly “Saturn Devouring His Son,“) would both fascinate and terrify me as well.

"The sleep of Reason creates monsters&quo...

“The sleep of Reason creates monsters”, etching and aquatint by Francisco Goya (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So whenever I come across even marginally interesting baseball flotsam, I indulge myself like Miguel Cabrera sitting on a 3-2 pitch from Josh Tomlin with the bases loaded.

Here are a few things I’d like to share with you.

1)  Lawrence Dolan, (net worth, 3 billion dollars) of Clan Dolan, purchased the Cleveland Indians in the year 2000 for $323 million dollars.  Since then, the Indians have finished above .500 just twice over the past eleven seasons.  Attendance at Indians home games has gone from #1 (3.5 million fans per year) when he bought the team to near the bottom of the league (about 1.5 million fans per year) under his tenure.

Meanwhile, the value of the Cleveland Indians franchise, even despite the major recession and the poor on-field performance, has actually increased from $323 million to the current (Forbes) estimate of $353 million.

Which just goes to show, if you are filthy rich in America, remarkable incompetence is generally rewarded just as handsomely as is occasional, skillful management.

Joey Votto

Joey Votto (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2)  Cincinnati Reds slugger Joey Votto went through the entire 2010 baseball season without once hitting an infield pop-up.  In 2011, he hit an infield pop-up just once.  Also, through July of 2012, Votto had pulled just one ball foul in his entire career.  What does all that mean?  It means the man simply never misses his pitch.

In 2012, despite missing about 50 games, he still led the N.L. in walks with 94, and in on-base percentage for the 3rd straight year.  His unbelievable .474 on-base percentage means, of course, that he gets on base nearly one time for every two plate appearances.

Those are numbers normally compiled by Little League All-Stars, or by guys named Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, or Babe Ruth.

2010-02-19 #18 Max Scherzer

2010-02-19 #18 Max Scherzer (Photo credit: lakelandlocal)

3)  Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers has pretty dominant stuff.  In 2012, he recorded 231 strikeouts in just 187.2 innings pitched.  He posted a 16-7 record, and has now made 133 Major League starts over the past five years.

Somehow, though, Scherzer has never been told that MLB games, unlike Little League contests, last nine innings.  For the 28-year old Scherzer, remarkably, has never pitched a single complete game in his career.

Now, as a former teacher (I don’t like to say, ex-teacher, ’cause that sounds a bit too much like “teacher who was fired for reasons sealed away in a Federal Affidavit,”) I got used to people complaining that “teachers hardly work at all,” apparently referring to the cushy 180-day work schedule “enjoyed” by your typical public school teacher.

Putting aside that we didn’t in fact, A) punch a clock, that we did not get paid for the summer (we could opt to get paid through the summer, but that’s not the same as getting paid for the summer), B)  Most of us showed up at school quite often on our “off” days, and C)  Like cops and firemen, teachers are never really “off-duty.”  Whether shopping at the local grocery store, or a Target, a Staples, etc., or even attending a local museum, most teachers are always, ALWAYS, on the lookout for something they can either purchase, beg or steal for their classrooms.

Which brings us back to Scherzer.  Is it really too much to ask Scherzer to go nine innings just once?  After all, my top salary as a teacher, after 12 years, was about $50,000 (in one of the better paying districts in Maine.)  Max Scherzer earned $117,187.50 per start in 2012.

Also, I completed every one of my starts.

And Scherzer has never had to do after-school detention duty.

4)  In 1997, despite a league-leading 744 plate appearances, Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio did not ground into a single double-play all season.  Now, GIDP is not a stat that has been religiously recorded throughout baseball history.  In fact, before, WWII, it was often not recorded at all.

Yet, with 65+ seasons available to analyze, here’s a short but interesting list of players who cannot make the same claim as Biggio (minimum 400 plate appearances):

1)  Rickey Henderson

2)  Tim Raines

3)  Lou Brock

4)  Maury Wills

5)  Jackie Robinson

6)  Vince Coleman

7)  George Brett

8)  Tony Gwynn

9)  Juan Pierre

10) Dave Lopes

11) Pete Rose

12) Roberto Alomar

13) Eric Davis

14) Barry Larkin

15) Ron LeFlore

Admittedly, a statistic like this is as much an aberration as it is a sign of incredible skill.  But what else can we do but genuflect in the general direction of Houston whenever Biggio’s name is so much as mentioned?

Official Major League Baseball - Close-up Shot

Official Major League Baseball – Close-up Shot (Photo credit: Jason Michael)

5)  Rawlings, the official manufacturer of all baseballs used in the Major Leagues, pays its employees in Costa Rica about $1.50 an hour.  Each employee must be able to hand-stitch one baseball every fifteen minutes, and each employee works an average of 11-12 hours per day.  They are required to meet a minimum quota of 156 balls per week.  This one factory produces well over two million baseballs each year.

A large percentage of the workers in this factory will eventually develop carpel-tunnel syndrome, or other physically debilitating injuries, within two to three years.  They are not allowed to speak to one another during the course of an entire shift, and must ask permission to use the bathroom.  And, of course, any discussion regarding organizing a labor union immediately results in the termination of employees foolish enough to engage in these “secret” discussions, despite the fact that, under Costa Rican law, its citizens do have the legal right to organize.

All of this information has been made available to Major League Baseball, to the Player’s Union, and, of course, has been pointed out to Rawlings, U.S.A.  To this point, none of these entities has shown the slightest bit of interest in the health and welfare of the people who make their multi-billion dollar industry possible.

Perhaps strangest of all, there has never been a Major League baseball player from Costa Rica.

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19 thoughts on “Baseball, Strange But True (Or, The Sleep of Reason Creates Monsters)

  1. First, that’s an awesome title. I like so many things in my life, I was first introduced to Goya’s creepy etching through comic books. I still remember when and where.

    I’m surprised about Scherzer’s lack of endurance after so many professional starts. Playing devil’s advocate, that may owe something to managerial decisions as well, although you’d think he’d have a couple after almost 150 starts. I have to say, though, that “Max Scherzer” is one of my favorite current baseball names. It brings to mind an enemy agent in a WWII film or a WWI flying ace. If his name was Evan Dandy, I doubt he’d have a professional career.

    I’m surprised GIDP isn’t a more-regarded statistic. Do they keep track of induced double-plays?

    • Working backwards on your comments, as far as I can tell, there are informal stats kept on which pitchers induced the most double-plays. The thing is, so much of it depends on the defense behind you, especially the middle-infielders. So even if you’re a ground-ball pitcher, there’s no guarantee that your defense will be very adept at turning the old 6-4-3.
      Having said that, I found that there have been two pitchers since 1954 who have induced SIX ground-ball D.P.’s in a single game: Mark Buehrle, and, I believe, Dick Drago.
      I do like Scherzer, and you’re right about his name. It’s pretty cool. We thought about naming one of our sons Max, but Max Miller just sounded a bit much for a child to have to grow into. I’m sure they’ve been watching his pitch counts closely, but he also tends to reach the hundred pitch limit sometime around the 5th or 6th inning partly because he’s striking out so many batters. Doesn’t get a lot of easy, one pitch ground-balls, I suppose. Still, it’s not a bad problem to have if you’re averaging well over a K an inning.
      Glad you liked the title. Goya fascinates me.
      Cheers,
      Bill

  2. That’s an amazing stat on Votto. The piece on the Rawlings ball laborers should be paired with an A-Rod salary update, or Scherzer dollars per inning stat.

  3. Fascinating stuff! I’m so glad you got “Freshly Pressed” and I found your blog! Looks like it will quickly become a favorite. By the way, as a Texas Rangers fan, I make it a point of pointing out every time Michael Young GIDP. He frequently leads the league in that statistic. And Scherzer was flat amazing against the Yanks yesterday! For 5 2/3 innings. 🙂

    • Jeff, Thank you so much for the kind words. I hope you do decide to come back. Must be tough being a Rangers fan these days, particularly come play-off time. Scherzer is an excellent pitcher for about six innings at a time. Perhaps as he matures, he’ll learn how to go deeper into games.

      Again, thanks for stopping by.

      Bill

  4. My first full-time job was as a teacher in a quasi-private school; my salary was $10,700 per year, which wasn’t much even then. But it beats sewing baseball’s for Rawlings (just one of NAFTA’s little side benefits–not Clinton’s finest hour.)

    • My first year of teaching, in a little hamlet along mid-coast Maine, back in ’94, I got paid $20,900. I had to borrow money to pay my electric bill. And, being single at the time, there was no other income to fall back on.
      The “new” Clintonian Democrats were almost as quick to screw labor as their Republican counterparts. What a joke that they called him a socialist at the time.

  5. Wow! Good to know regarding Rawlings! So sad…. Great facts thanks for sharing!

    • Yeah, the Rawlings thing isn’t very highly publicized, and why would it be? It’s a win-win for the players and for the owners. The only ones who lose out are the people that few others barely even recognize as fellow human beings.
      Thank you for reading,
      Bill

      • It’s so sad and I wish there was something I could do aside from not buying any Rawlings (I don’t buy a lot to begin with) and getting the word out.

      • Well, the more people that are aware, the better. Info and communication is what it’s all about today, so there’s actually more of a chance that people could make a difference today than there used to be.
        Thanks for reading, and for the comment,
        Bill

  6. Of course there are no Major League players from Costa Rica. They’re all too busy stitching the damned balls.
    Shameful, MLB, Shameful.
    v

    • Hi, V. It would take a lot of negative publicity, sustained over a long period of time before MLB cared to do anything about it. Right now, I’m sure they consider it business as usual.
      Bill

    • W.K., I agree with you that NAFTA was far from Clinton’s finest hours. I’m glad you brought that up, because no one else seems to. I’m tired of Democrats making Bill Clinton out to be a hero. He is NOT. (And I’m a registered Democrat and I always have been.) Clinton was really a Republican in Democrat clothing. He did a LOT of other VERY conservative-like things; too many for me to get into here.

      But there are things that one can do to overcome the so-called “free trade agreements). I, for one, don’t buy any clothing, except at the local Salvation Army store and Goodwill Store. Not only is the money going to a good cause, but it ISN’T going towards the companies that ship labor overseas. For example, if I buy a shirt at the Salvation Army store that has a label that says “Made In Singapore”, I am buying that shirt with full confidence that I am not rewarding the company that shipped its labor overseas. The money is ONLY going to the Salvation Army, and to no one else. It’s sad that it’s come down to this, but it’s reality. I am very distressed by the “free-trade agreements”, and I’m very angry at Bill Clinton about this. Remember: He not ONLY signed the treaty; he was actually going around the country making speeches, trying to SELL people on the idea. I cringe when I think of how I not only voted for Bill Clinton the traitor, but I also CAMPAIGNED for him during the 1992 Democratic primaries.

      One more thing. Baseball products, such as Spalding and some others, have LONG been shipping manufacturing jobs overseas. The Bobby Shantz glove that my father handed down to me that I alluded to in one of my posts? That was manufactured in the 1950s, and it was made in Korea. And as long as I recall, going back to the early 1970s,every time I bought a baseball, it said on it that it was “stitched in Haiti.” So this all is nothing new when it comes to baseball. It’s sad and it’s downright unpatriotic.

      Glen

  7. Well done, Bill. I think that you make strong points with #1 and #5. At this level, Incompetence is its own reward.

  8. beachpig on said:

    Great article with done truly interesting stats. Now i have to go back and see how many ground ball double plays Biggio had in Strat that year. Keep up the cool stuff.

  9. There You Go Again, Mr. Bill, With Your Wonderful Research Skills!
    Very Informative AND A Quality Read.
    Excellent Stuff, Sir!
    Reblog?
    YOU BETCHA! 😀
    -B.

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